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Building My Net Zero Energy Home: Changing the Foot Print for Passive Solar Gain

8/5/2012 10:01:00 PM

Tags: Super Green Net Zero Energy Home, efficent green home, Dan's super efficient green home, green building, net zero energy homes, energy efficient homes, passive solar homes, Dan Chiras

Excavating the foundation 

If you have been reading my blog, you will remember that my goal in this new house is to derive all the comfort I need from an airtight, superinsulated, passive solar design.

That meant that the first thing I had to do was change the footprint of the house. The previous home that burned in a fire was rectangular, which is ideal for passive solar, but it was not designed for solar. That meant that there weren't very windows on the southern facade. South-facing glass allows the low-angled winter sun to penetrate. There were also way too many windows on the north side.  North side windows allow heat to escape on cold winter nights.

The other big problem with the design was that the two bedrooms were "stacked" -- one faced the south and the other faced the north. The north bedroom received no solar gain whatsoever. To rectify this huge problem, I redesigned the house, making it longer and narrower. As a result, the kitchen, living room, guest bedroom, bathroom and master bedroom all lined up side by side. Each became its own solar collector. That eliminated the need to move heat from one room to another, a task that is difficult to accomplish without a lot of outside energy and fans and ducts.

In this photo, the excavator has begun cleaning out the hole where my previous house was placed.

Kubota excavator 

Contributing editor Dan Chiras is a renewable energy and green homes expert who has spent a lifetime learning life’s lessons, which he shares in his popular blog, Dan Chiras on Loving Life. He’s the founder and director of The Evergreen Institute and president of Sustainable Systems Design. Contact him by visiting his website or finding him on .

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3/13/2013 10:26:25 PM
We are also planning to build with ICF - not just because of the energy efficiency, but because we will be building in a forest and the ICF should give us more protection than a stick built home. We would also like to be zero energy. So....... how do you cook? We assumed we would have to use a propane stove (as we are off the grid), but I hate the idea of using propane because the price can only go up as it is a finite resource. I would love to use an electric stove/oven, but I was told I would have to have an acre of solar panels to pull that one off. Also, we would like to use solar hot water in some type of a hybrid with a tankless water heater. I understand this could be used to heat the floors with PEX laid within the concrete floors. But, there again comes the problem of propane usage! How does one get by without these things?

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